Most women will develop uterine fibroids at some point; in fact, they’re found in 70% of Caucasian women and 80% of African American women. These growths in the wall of the uterus aren’t cancerous, and for many women, they don’t cause any symptoms. However, for some, they can lead to heavy, painful periods and other types of discomfort like a bloated feeling and pain in the back or pelvis. Fibroids can also interfere with getting pregnant. The primary treatment for uterine fibroids used to be hysterectomy, but modern options include effective medications and minimally invasive procedures. There are even self-care tactics you can try.
Putting heat on your abdomen or back can stimulate blood flow and relax tense muscles that are making pain worse. You can try a heating pad, hot water bottle, or hot bath. Make sure you’re getting enough rest and use pillows to ease pressure points. Putting pillows under your knees, for example, can lessen strain on your back. Some women also find relief from yoga, acupuncture, or relaxation techniques like meditation or deep breathing. Check in with your doctor before you start a new exercise program or try alternative medicine to make sure it’s safe for you.
Medications to Treat Fibroids
For some women, taking a nonprescription pain reliever such as aspirin, acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil) or naproxen (Aleve) is enough to dull period pain. If this doesn’t work for you, your gynecologist may prescribe a stronger pain medicine or recommend a hormonal birth control or IUD that contains progestin. While the primary purpose of hormonal birth control isn’t to relieve period pain, it often helps by making periods shorter and lighter.
In addition to talking to your gynecologist about your period pain, it’s important to address the amount of blood you’re losing through heavy periods to help protect you from becoming anemic. If you’re losing too much blood, your doctor may recommend an iron supplement or prescribe a specific medication to slow blood loss called tranexamic acid (Lysteda), which is also used to treat hemophilia. Your doctor might also recommend a newer medication, Oriahnn, which combines the drugs elagolix, estradiol, and norethindrone acetate into one pill. This can reduce heavy menstrual bleeding to prevent anemia and improve quality of life.
A hysterectomy to completely remove the uterus, and sometimes the ovaries and fallopian tubes, is no longer the only surgical way to treat uterine fibroids. Your gynecologist will likely only consider hysterectomy if these newer procedures aren’t appropriate for you:
- Myomectomy: removal of fibroids through either minimally invasive or traditional surgery, depending on the size and location of the fibroids, while keeping the uterus intact
- Radiofrequency ablation: radiation to shrink the size of the fibroids up to 50% over a few months
- Uterine artery embolization (UAE): a blocking of blood vessels to prevent fibroids from getting the blood they need to live and grow, shrinking their size up to 60% over a few months
If hysterectomy is ultimately the best course for you, your gynecologist will likely help you weigh both minimally invasive and traditional surgical methods. With as many treatment alternatives as we have today, it’s also important to know that fibroids can go away on their own, particularly after menopause. The important thing to consider is your quality of life and the tradeoffs you’re willing to make in the meantime.